Encarta has managed to tap into a vast potential workforce by appealing to one of the few emotions stronger than greed-the desire to feel smarter than the know-it-alls who write and edit encyclopedias. Microsoft isn’t the first to use this technique; the OED relied on volunteers for many of its entries, including one or two individuals who had the luxury to engage in unlimited hours of lexicography.
In the grand scheme of things, it won’t enhance human knowledge significantly if people feel the need to nitpick about alternative spellings of “Xerxes.” It would enhance human knowledge if more people spent time reading Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language One of the greatest minds to be ignored by everyone outside of senior English seminars, Johnson created the first comprehensive English language dictionary. In 9 years of work, he and his small staff defined over 40,000 words, using quotations spanning 200-odd years and injecting wit and humor into an enterprise that could easily be as dull to read as a new copy of Webster’s.
This month marks 250 years since the publication of the Dictionary, you’d hardly know it from reading definitions like this one-
Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.
Imagine what he’d have to say about America. Wait, we don’t have to:
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
And that’s not all he has to say about our fair nation.
Is there a point to this rambling? Not really, just a whole bunch of love for Dr. Johnson that needs to be spread. Rock on, Sammy(many thanks to Professor Howard Weinbrot for turning my dreaded pre-1800 lit requirement into a safe haven from too much modernism).